Yoga means the union of opposites. It brings together mind and body to strengthen the connection to the soul. The four yoga paths — Jhana, Bhakti, Karma, and Raja — have different approaches to this union to heal from the inside out. Raja yoga, called Royal Yoga, is often called supreme because it includes diet, lifestyle, philosophy, postures, and meditation.
The paths can be integrated or utilized based on where the individual feels a strong calling.
- Jhana (to think): Reading yoga philosophy and pondering the purpose of life.
- Bhakti (to feel): Expressing love of the soul through creative self-expression.
- Karma (to act): Sharing unconditional love through humanitarian actions.
- Raja (to unite): Uniting the paths for conscientious living.
Yoga, overall, is living with awareness of the mind and body. Raja yoga is a daily practice that balances mind, body and spirit.
Yama – Ethical Standards
In its purest form, yama is about not harming living beings: animals, plants, minerals and humans.
Niyama – Ethical Observances
Our beliefs are put into action with daily practices. We devote to philosophical, spiritual or religious study. Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita are classic yoga philosophical texts. In Hinduism the historic Buddha, or Siddhārtha Gautama, is considered to be the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Reading Buddhist texts is another way of expanding the mind. Practice may also include spending time in nature everyday, communicating with angels, or engaging in friendly philosophical debate with people of like minds.
Asana – Postures
We all know this as the different styles of hatha (power) – Iyengar, Astanga, Kundalini, Bikram and Sivananda. The intention of hatha is to strengthen the body for meditation.
Pranayama – Breath Control
Translated as ‘life force extension,’ this is a focus on the breath as it is connected to the body and mind. It moves the chi, or energy, throughout the body. Alternate nostril breathing and the Breath of Fire are two of the techniques in pranayama.
Pratayahara – Withdrawal of Senses
Taking a break from daily life by turning off the television, cell phone and computer. Going camping or meditation retreats are other ways we can unplug from the world.
The five limbs above prepare us for the the next three limbs, which are phases from beginning to end.
Dharana – Concentration
Sitting in meditation focusing on the breath, chakra or an object (candle flame, symbol pictured in the mind).
Dhyana – Uninterrupted Flow of Concentration
Experiencing ‘monkey mind’ is normal. The mind becomes still with practice. With dhyana we no longer notice the breath or other object of focus.
Samadhi – Enlightenment
We transcend mind, body and breath. This is a sense of ultimate peace, connection with the Divine. In meditation we can experience this for a moment, several minutes or longer.
We do not have to become a monastic to achieve enlightenment, but we can choose where to focus our energy in work, play, friends and family to maintain our internal feeling of peace.